New research and reports from local birdwatchers have documented a unique phenomenon of Australia’s iconic sulphur-crested cockatoos opening household kerbside bins, despite increasingly sophisticated barriers, forcing both sides to step up their game in the “arms race” between the cockatoos and the people.
The scientists monitored 3,283 bins over a few years across four Australian suburbs with abundant cockatoo activity to get a snapshot of the protection methods being used.
Heavy bricks placed on bins were among fifty ways that Australians have come up with to prevent hungry cockatoos from opening their bins. Others have water bottles or shoes jammed into the lid’s hinge to keep the cockatoos at bay.
However, the cockatoos figured out how to get past many strategies, pushing Australians to come up with more innovative solutions.
The cockatoos adapted well to living with humans, and now humans are adapting to living with them, co-author and research scientist at Taronga Zoo John Martin said.
The following video captures a cockatoo pushing a brick off a bin lid, opening it and then searching for food.
“Needless to say, coming home to find your rubbish spread on the ground in front of your house is not appreciated.”
In an earlier study conducted in 2019 and 2020, the researchers found that around 60 percent of householders escalated their efforts as the cockatoos figured out how to overcome the bin-protection methods.
Preserving the Harmony Between Human and Wildlife
Martin said that we should learn to live alongside the wildlife as our attempts to deal with such conflicts can have tragic results for wildlife.
“One extreme example is shark nets, which kill sharks yet also kill or entangle non-target—and sometimes threatened—species, such as turtles, dolphins, grey-nurse sharks and whales,” he said.
In many instances of human-wildlife conflict, public education goes a long way to reducing conflict.
“Understanding wildlife behaviour and appreciating the fascinating features of native species often favourably shift community attitudes—we can grow to love them, not fight them,” Martin said.
“So whether it’s finding new and harmless ways to protect your bin from hungry cockatoos, or having shark-smart behaviour, there are positive actions we can take if we are informed.”
One suggestion is working with neighbours to monitor the cockatoos and remind others not to feed them.
Wildlife groups discourage wild-bird feeding because it can cause dependence on the human diet, which can lead to unnatural behaviour and ecosystem imbalance.
Human dependency can increase the spread of infectious diseases, property damage such as tearing up outdoor furniture and windows, as well as rat infestations and noise pollution in the neighbourhood.
The method involving jamming shoes in the hinge is also a strategy that hasn’t been solved by the cockatoos, the researchers said, “yet.”